Written by

Andrew Millar


August 18, 2007

There are lots of traditions in our lives. Some we question and some we just accept as a habit.

Black Sheep, although only still technically a lamb, has a host of traditions in the making. Our Crocs are one tradition. The fact we let the coffee completely run out before ordering more, seems to be another.

Another tradition is our annual art show.

The corridor between our tenancy and Hughes Public Relations is a brilliant open space in the city, and we have used it to host exhibitions on several occasions. And once a year we hang our own work. Not the ads we do, but paintings, sketches and prints we make for our own gratification.

We have a Hanging Night, where we place the work around the walls and drink beer while we hang them. The first year we did this, we were all astounded that it actually looked like an art exhibition.

The exhibition was titled ‘No one told Pollock to make the logo bigger’ and it celebrated the notion that art is in the intent. In other words, because the idea was to create a piece of art, it therefore is a piece of art.

And the tradition lives on as we have hung this year’s art under a theme that celebrates a disorder. Stendhal’s Syndrome.

Stendhal was a French novelist who wrote under the pseudonym of Marie Henri Beyle. He only wrote two novels but is best remembered for describing the symptoms of a young man surrounded by the artworks of Paris. Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly ‘beautiful’ or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world. There have been many cases of individuals, for instance, experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome in reaction to the mountains of British Columbia.

And I have seen it seize people. I’ve stood on the cliff tops along the far south coast of Adelaide with a group of young Japanese tourists as the sun slipped into the ocean at the end of a long hot summer’s day. The site was so overwhelming for several that they spontaneously burst into floods of tears. Stendhal’s is actually sometimes called ‘Japanese Syndrome’.

Many years ago they used to call it ‘swooning’. Victorian ladies, confronted by the sight of a well-built gardener without his shirt on, would faint dead away. Some suggest that whalebone corsets were the cause. But perhaps it was just a case of sensitivity. In Victorian times, the most exciting thing that would have happened during the day was a conversation with someone in button-up boots that hinted at scandal and intrigue. Perhaps someone dared to talk to someone else without an introduction? Perhaps someone took tea without a chaperone?

And what are we used to? Let’s take a typical night of television – 12 year old girl machine gunned in a drive by shooting, a rape, a thug holding someone’s face to the hotplate of a stove and a whole bunch of gardeners proudly showing the audience their garden implements.

It is no wonder we don’t pass out in the presence of a painting of sunflowers by a long dead Dutchman. We’ve become hardened. We’ve become desensitised. Things just don’t shock us. And that’s sad.

But there is an important lesson for us to learn for our everyday work. Audiences have become desensitised to advertising. It is getting harder to make people pay attention to advertising. I don’t expect people to swoon at the sight of a cleaver ad for soap powder. But we are trying to move people’s emotions… stir passion… shift attitude…

I don’t expect people to experience dizziness, panic, paranoia, or madness when they view our artwork. Not unless they come to the opening and enjoy a few beers….